By Prof. Bruce Budowle, Contributing Editor, Forensic Fridays, 31st October 2023
In a recent discussion on #ForensicFridays, Jennifer Degner, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (#SANE) and #MVFJ finalist, highlighted the method of labeling DNA evidence submissions as priority levels (#1, #2, or #3) to guide analysts effectively and avoid unnecessary testing and delays. This practice is crucial, particularly in African regions with limited DNA lab resources. Seeking expert insight, we consulted Professor Bruce Budowle, who shared a comprehensive perspective on the potential consequences of over-relying on DNA testing and the importance of sample prioritization.
The Power and Limits of DNA Analysis Professor Budowle emphasized the significant role DNA analysis plays in crime investigation, not only for identifying the source of biological evidence but also in aiding crime scene reconstruction. However, an excessive reliance on DNA testing can lead to unsustainable approaches in evidence processing. He noted that testing every collected sample, while seemingly exhaustive, strains laboratory capacities and budgets, contributing to backlogs and delays.
Strategies for Efficient Sample Analysis To counteract this challenge, Professor Budowle proposed a method of prioritizing samples for analysis. This approach involves limiting the initial submissions for analysis to a set number, such as five samples, in consultation with the laboratory. He suggested prioritizing specific case types, such as sexual assault or homicide cases, over property crime cases to ensure a more focused and efficient use of resources. Additionally, by utilizing the expertise of medical personnel in identifying the most probative samples, investigative intelligence can guide sample selection for testing, optimizing the efficacy of DNA data for investigations.
Quality Over Rushed Deadlines Another critical aspect Professor Budowle addressed was the issue of analyzing samples close to court deadlines. Rushing analysis to meet court dates risks compromising the quality of results. Instead, a more efficient and responsible strategy involves a balanced and prioritized approach, maximizing the potential of DNA evidence while maintaining investigative integrity.
Collaborative Approach and Future Strategies Professor Budowle stressed the necessity for all involved parties to work together, aligning investigative strategies to ensure informative and efficient DNA testing. Collaboration and prioritization strategies are crucial in addressing backlogs and facilitating timely, accurate, and relevant DNA data that can positively impact investigations.
The discussion with Professor Budowle sheds light on the complexities and challenges in utilizing DNA evidence effectively. Striking a balance between resource allocation and quality analysis remains pivotal for optimizing the power of DNA in investigations.